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Anonymous asked: In regards to the training video with the Doberman you recently posted, I had always heard that when a dog is "smiling" with the mouth open, it means they are relaxed. But in the video the trainer said that this was a sign of stress. How can you tell the difference between a relaxed smile and a stressed smile, or does it always mean stress? Thank you! :)
(Made rebloggable upon request)
Fear Grimace: (Often called fear grimace, but also seen in excited dogs) Tense jaw muscles. Mouth pulled at corners back exposing molars or all teeth. Visible creases at corners of mouth, forehead - fear, tension, excitement. Looks like an exaggerated or forced smile.
Smile: Relaxed jaw muscles, tongue exposed. No visible creases on face, forehead.(x)
When reading dog behavior, it’s important to look at the entire body, rather then one specific part. A fear grimace is when the mouth is pulled back, but it is not only the mouth that tells you when the dog is uncomfortable.
This is an example:
As you can see, the mouth is pulled back, the ears are back, the dog is giving “side-eyed”, “half-moon” stares and the face is strained and tense. This dog is clearly uncomfortable.
Another key signal from an anxious dog is a sudden out-of-context action such as:
- repeated yawning
- licking chops without the presence of food, usually to the nose
- sudden scratching and biting at self
- suddenly sniffing the ground or other object
The Doberman was tense, she was constantly looking around, mouth was pulled back, her eyes were wide open, her face was strained and she was panting excessively.
Considering her context, she’s been trained with “traditional” and mostly aversive techniques, which can lead to chronic stress. She was faced with a stranger and restricted with a muzzle. So, context here is very important.
A true, happy grin is relaxed. Accompanied usually by a wagging tail or a play-bow. The dog’s posture is relaxed and comfortable, not tense and rigid.
Some indicators of a happy dog are:
- relaxed, loose, body
- fast, vigorous tail wag, usually involving the entire rear end
- tail thumping on the floor when sitting or lying down
- loose “floppy” lips
- open mouth with a loose tongue
- rhythmic, slowing panting (as opposed to rapid panting, which means exertion or excitement)
This is my own dog. (I should note that this is an old photo and I no longer use that martingale collar because corrections during walks only caused frustration and were ineffective) You can see her mouth wide, loose tongue, relaxed face. We’d just been playing fetch in the park, so she was very happy, indeed!
So, to answer your question, in order to tell the difference between a fear grimace and a grin, you must consider the entire dog’s body language. Are the ears pulled back or forward, are the dog’s eyes wide or squinted, are it’s facial muscles contracted or relaxed, is the dog frozen and staring? What about the body position? Is it lowered, with tail between legs or loose and relaxed?
You also have to consider the context. Is the dog in an unfamiliar environment, such as the vet or groomers? Is it dog-aggressive and there are dogs nearby? The great thing about reading body language is, by doing so, you are really able to understand your dog on a deeper level. Recognizing when they are stressed and removing them from the situation prevents the behavior from escalating to such an extent that the dog feels the need to react or bite.
I hope this helps!
Here are some more resources to help you out:
- Recognizing the subtleties of canine: Body Language - PDF download
- Dog Body Language - a guide - information and images were sourced from this article.
- Dog Language 101
Ethology (the study of animal behavior) is definitely my favorite branch zoology, which is my favorite branch of biology. Unfortunately, ethology is often overlooked in the popular media thanks to sexier (i.e. better funded) areas of research in the bio-medical realm.
But, guys and gals, ethology is REALLY cool, and, unsurprisingly, REALLY FREAKIN’ IMPORTANT to biomed pursuits.
Yay! Ethology ftw!
This is why I love my local Vet hospital.
In a blog entry about humping behaviour in dogs:
Dominance is used to describe the relationship between two individuals in a specific situation, and is not a personality trait. For example, in a group of dogs one dog may always end up with the best toys, because compared to the other dogs in the group, toys are a priority for that dog. So when it comes to playing with toys, that dog is dominant over other group members. However, another dog in the group may be very particular about getting the best sleeping spot. It depends on what each dog in the group values and how much effort they are willing to put in to get to that resource. Dogs don’t have a fixed linear hierarchy with an ‘alpha dog’ who automatically gets the best of everything. Similarly, dogs are not motivated to try to ‘dominate’ people.
One of the things I love about animal training
BORING LONG MUSHY TALK ABOUT WHY I LOVE THIS STUFF THAT ONLY FELLOW TRAINING-LOVERS WILL PROBABLY HAVE ANY INTEREST IN.
I have often heard it described as “a mix between science and art”.
You have the obvious science: the four quadrants of punishment and reinforcement. Adding something nice, and taking away something nasty, makes you want to do that behaviour more. Taking away something nice, or adding something nasty, makes you want to do it less. Obvious, right? Then you’ve got the lesser known but still scientific redirections, DRIs/DROs (basically, do something else/something incompatible and you get a reward!) and so on.
These might to a certain extent teach you what to do in certain situations…and others, not.
What do you do if you are in a show and the animal is aggressive? Positive punishment (adding the nasty) can work, but it also suppresses the animal, is extremely unmotivating, and it is extremely difficult to get the (crystal clear) timing, and the balance right. The last thing you want is an unmotivated, fustrated (with the strong risk of leading to aggression) animal. It is often found that due to the motivation of wanting something, learning occurs faster with positive reinforcement (adding the nice), anyway.
What do you do when an animal HAS aggressed…but then it has stopped? Or it has responded to your DRI (for example, asking a dog to target when it tries to bite - it cannot target with its mouth closed at the same time as biting: it is incompatible)?
Do you ignore or punish the animal because it has shown aggression? Or do you give it a small amount for stopping? Or do you give it a huge jackpot for ceasing the aggression and responding to you?
In training, doing things that sound backwards, is often the most effective. For example, when I am training and I ask for a behavior and the animal keeps offering the wrong one. Let’s just say it’s a horse and it is stamping is foot when I want a whinny. Maybe the cues/sD/signals are similar, or the behaviours are new, or it is simply confused for whatever reason. I have often been told “NEVER reinforce that behaviour that the animal is offering, that you don’t want”. I ask again for the whinny; it stamps its foot. So you know what I do? I go against that. I ask for the foot stamp. The animal stamps its foot. I might repeat this. Then I ask for the whinny. Often, I find that the animal thinks “…..wait a minute. That’s not the foot stamp after all.” and offers either the complete behaviour, or something close to it, if it is unsure - something you can easily work on.
What I’m trying to say is: that’s a tiny personal example which I have found to be very effective in many different species.
There are many grey areas in training. That is what makes each trainer, animal, and situation unique. I can’t count the amount of times trainers have said to me “this is the grey area” or “I technically probably should not do this”. This is why I find it indescribably important to constantly watch training sessions (no matter the trainer, animal, or methods), no matter what your level is, no matter how senior you are. It is absolutely vital to maintain an open mind. Arrogance cannot cloud training. Even if you have 50 years of experience you are still learning because no two training sessions are the same. No two animals are the same.
Positive reinforcement based training is still relatively new to the world, and as such it is constantly growing. Think of the difference between facilities across the world, or police dog training, general pet owners.
How can it have come from electric shocks, starvation, choking and forcing of positions, to now….and just stop dead?
It is a constantly growing field and that’s the amazing thing. We have so much more to learn and that is why we cannot let arrogance cloud our learning. I know so many people that have succumbed to this and as such their learning has ceased, their way is the “right way”, and it is only to the blatent detriment of their animals and their training.
You know what else I love about it? It is all about the animals. We are invisible; we are the tools. We are nothing. We have to constantly analyse the animal; its behaviour, body language, response quality, speed. Everything it is possibly showing us. We have to constantly calculate how to respond to this and how we can make it clear to the animal what we want; and that excellent things will happen if it does that. We are nothing because we cannot consider us; everything is in consideration the animal. Not us.
It always makes me chuckle how people think “animal training? No problem!” I have met many people that think it consists of giving a signal, giving a reward. And repeat. Pushing a dog’s bum to make it sit, if necessary. And then they watch some training, begin to learn. They wonder, “how do you teach THAT?” and they hear some of the very basic science and say, “I didn’t realise it was so difficult, so indepth”.
And they have barely scratched the surface.
We have all barely scratched the surface.
That’s why I love it; it is not about artificial qualifications. For the vast majority, it is all about practise, and watching: on the job learning and experience.
The three most important things? Timing, logic, and ability to sense the animal’s mood/ability/etc. Which means that some 13 year old boy that has never met a dolphin in his life, could potentially train it just as well as a 50 year old with 30 years experience with said dolphins.
My very favourite thing? It shows you how smart, how talented, how amazing the animal is. We are able to learn how creative animals are, how intelligent they are, and what amazing things they can do.
Day by day we learn that we are underestimating animals.
And on that, we have definitely only barely scratched the surface.